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Beijing, China's capital city, is located in a typical intraplate seismic belt, with relatively high-quality instrumental catalogue data available since 1970. The Chinese historical earthquake catalogue contains six strong historical earthquakes of Ms ≥ 6 around Beijing, the earliest in 294 AD. This poses a significant potential hazard to one of the most densely populated and economically active parts of China. In some intraplate areas, persistent clusters of events associated with historical events can occur over centuries, for example, the ongoing sequence in the New Madrid zone of the eastern US. Here we will examine the evidence for such persistent clusters around Beijing. We introduce a metric known as the ‘seismic density index’ that quantifies the degree of clustering of seismic energy release. For a given map location, this multi-dimensional index depends on the number of events, their magnitudes, and the distances to the locations of the surrounding population of earthquakes. We apply the index to modern instrumental catalogue data between 1970 and 2014, and identify six clear candidate zones. We then compare these locations to earthquake epicentre and seismic intensity data for the six largest historical earthquakes. Each candidate zone contains one of the six historical events, and the location of peak intensity is within 5 km or so of the reported epicentre in five of these cases. In one case—the great Ms 8 earthquake of 1679—the peak is closer to the area of strongest shaking (Intensity XI or more) than the reported epicentre. The present-day event rates are similar to those predicted by the modified Omori law but there is no evidence of ongoing decay in event rates. Accordingly, the index is more likely to be picking out the location of persistent weaknesses in the lithosphere. Our results imply zones of high seismic density index could be used in principle to indicate the location of unrecorded historical of palaeoseismic events, in China and elsewhere.